‘Bag lady’ has penchant for place mats

Whenever I go shopping for table place mats, I’m usually looking for bright and unusual patterns. Not so I can set my dining room table in an aesthetically pleasing manner for a family meal — but to make handbags from them.

That’s right. Styles and colors of place mats are abundant, and from them you can make funky handbags, retro handbags, shoulder handbags, cosmopolitan purses, roomy totes and enormous carryalls.

Finding a pretty place mat is as much fun for me as discovering a new fabric line in a quilting shop.

I’ve bought mats in blue and green plaid, beige, cream and black plaids, orange, green and gold stripes and in solid colors with nubby weaves.

Sometimes I buy matching or coordinating napkins, which strategically become pockets sewn inside the bag. Plenty of pockets is my motto. Other times, I pair a favorite fabric from my quilting room stash to complement my place mat.

Purses are easy to make and have been a popular trend among crafters and sewing enthusiasts for some time now. Every fabric store offers dozens of patterns for handmade handbags, and several books on making your own textile totes are available.

These bags can be trimmed with beads, buttons, fringe, ribbons, giant rickrack — any type of adornment that suits your fancy. It’s a real kick just browsing the aisles for embellishments and marveling at what the manufacturers offer these days. It’s great to have so many choices.

Purse handles, too, are readily available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors. I’ve used bamboo handles, tortoise shell handles and beaded handles on my bags. Sometimes, I prefer to make fabric handles that match the purses.

You can line the place mats if you prefer, but I opt not to. The beauty of place mats is the edges are already finished for you.

One word of caution: The edges can be thick, so use a larger needle, such as a size 90, and stitch with patience over the thicker parts. I use a jeans needle on most of my handbags.

Closures are fairly simple as well. I’ve done fabric loops around decorative buttons, magnetic snaps (they really are a snap to insert in your fabric) and the trusty hook and loop tape fasteners. Now that I’ve tried the heat-activated adhesive brand, I iron on the hook and loop pieces. The package says “No Sewing Needed” and “bonds permanently.” That makes good sense to me. I’m already simplifying the project with premade place mats, so the less sewing the better.

I wanted a good-sized shoulder bag, so I added some contemporary fabric to an orange, green and gold place mat, separating the two with a row of dangling circular beads.

For a smaller bag with a more sophisticated style, I stitched padded pockets from this year’s paisley Hoffman Challenge fabric and piped them with a large gold-and-black braided cord.

Two other place mats came with fringed edges, perfect around the purses’ opening. On one, I stitched a narrow shiny

trim to the wraparound outer pockets. On the second, I added heavy bullion fringe above a gathered black plaid material that encased the bag’s bottom for a flounced look.

For a finishing touch, I’ve sometimes sewn a sparkly pin or fancy brooch near one of the purse handles.

Even outdated, gaudy earrings can add a touch of pizzazz. If you can’t find any in the back of your jewelry box, check out the costume jewelry displays in any number of secondhand stores. It’s a treat to discover that ideal accessory for your latest stylish bag.

I hope you’ll try some of these fast and simple techniques to update your fall wardrobe. They’re great for gifts, too, and I know you can find place mats with holiday themes. Just the other day, I noticed a display of shimmery copper and burgundy ones. These were even pre-quilted in metallic designs.

Hmmm. New visions of handbags dance in my head. I may need to pick up a couple of those.


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